For almost 1,000 years, the Dordogne was a key territory for the entire medieval period. Between Catholics and Protestants, seigneuries and the Kingdom of France, feudalism and chivalry, the Périgord was at the heart of all these issues, which partly explains its reputation as the region of 1001 châteaux.

A few key moments from this period and some vestiges still visible

À PérigueuxHistory is written in stone, and the town had its golden age in the Middle Ages. If you take the rue Limogeanne, you'll be walking on the arrival route for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Beneath Saint-Front cathedral, the 12th-century crypts have not changed. Collections of ancient artefacts await you at the Musée Vésunna, built around a vast Gallo-Roman villa. During the Gallo-Roman period, Vesunna was a monumental capital (today it is the southern quarter of the city of Périgueux), before the Visigoths occupied the area.

From the 6th century onwards, the first bishops created the diocese of Périgueux.
with a network of churches and abbeys.

Saint-Amand de Coly or Saint-Avit-Sénieur are both an abbey and a veritable fortress with a complex defence system.

Beynac chateau_fevrier2023©ALR (6)
©ALR

The first counties of Périgord appeared at the end of the 7th century.

From their time, castles have left a formidable mark on the landscape.

Based on territorial divisions, 4 baronies were created:
Beynac, Biron, Bourdeilles, Mareuil.

Vikings in Périgord!

In the 10th century, the Isle and Dordogne valleys and Périgueux were devastated by the Normans. Many inhabitants found refuge in the cluseaux: la Roque Saint-Christophe, la Madeleine, le Conquil and all those visible along the Vézère river. In the Vézère valley, the Roque Saint-Christophe was built in the 10th century by Frotaire, Bishop of Périgueux, to block the path of the Vikings as they travelled upstream. These cave dwellings served as a refuge for various populations for thousands of years.

At the same time, Sarlat was born and built around a Benedictine abbey, which was initially just a convent surrounded by a few houses belonging to the Counts of Périgord. Later, it gained its independence and became prosperous, but the town also suffered the assaults of the Scandinavian invasions. Romanesque elements have nevertheless survived the centuries: the tower-porch, the lantern of the dead, the chapel of Saint-Benoît...

And the Périgord became English

From Twelfth century the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II Plantagenet gave Périgord to the English. The country was occupied militarily, and numerous fortresses were built, usually along major rivers such as the Dordogne. It became the border between Plantagenet territory and the territory of the King of France. In 1152, the north and south of the département were divided: North loyal to the King of France, South to the English.

The 13th century saw the emergence of bastides founded by the King of France, the King of England or the Counts of Périgord. The site was chosen according to its location and the military role it was to play. The architectural plan is always the same: a rectilinear layout with ramparts and a square surrounded by arcades. Monpazier is the best example of this.

The golden age of the Knights Templar and the religious orders

The Knights Templar and the Hospitallers, the two main military orders of medieval Christendom, also left their mark on this war-torn region. They acquired so much wealth and influence that the religious authorities abolished them in 1312. A Templar tower can still be seen at Sergeac and a group of buildings that once belonged to the Hospitallers can be seen in Condat sur Vézère. À DommeA guide will take you through the iconography of the graffiti engraved on the towers where they were imprisoned... Many mysteries remain.

Domme©Dordogne Libre

Even if the Middle Ages was, in Périgord, an era troubled by numerous wars, the time was not favourable for vast building projects. Romanesque churches were built in the middle of the 12th century, at a time when large Gothic cathedrals were being built in northern France. But this style had little impact in the Périgord. People were more interested in defending themselves than in Paunat or to Saint-Amand de Coly where the walls reach impressive heights. Our churches were fortified like our castles. This bears witness to the ferocity of medieval times in the region. 

Medieval castles in Périgord Noir

In the Vézère valley

The Dordogne is famous for its 1001 châteaux, and the Vézère valley is a perfect example. The villages are full of medieval homes, from the simple dwelling to the manor house of yesteryear, as well as a number of private châteaux, some dating back to medieval times.

Commarque castle

A medieval castle, a forgotten fortress: Commarque

Commarque is located in the prestigious setting of the Beune valleyin Sireuil. It is a remarkable medieval fortified complex well hidden in the forest and that's what gives it its charm.
A The site was occupied much earlier than the Middle Ages. Inhabited since prehistoric times, below its imposing ruins lies a cave that has been visited on several occasions since the Palaeolithic period by Magdalenian hunters. For conservation reasons, it is not open to the public, but photographs on display in a room in the dungeon provide a good overview of the works in this cave.
The prehistoric settlement was regularly occupied even in the Middle Ages. At the foot of the castle, troglodytic dwellings probably dug out around the 9th or 10th centuries provide the starting point for the visit.

This is the story of the Périgord!

Visit 12th century The castle was built by the de Commarque family near a spring and given to the Knights Templar. It became a commandery, but when the order disappeared, the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem took it over, built a keep and then sold the fortress to the Baron de Beynac. The de Commarque family then had to cohabit with a younger branch of the Beynac family: 6 families (seigneuries) then jointly owned Commarque. Together, they remained loyal defenders of the French crown and fought against the invaders: the English ! It was the Hundred Years' War! The castle will eventually pass under English rule for 6 months. But after buying back his freedom, the de Commarque family drove the English out of Sarladais and Pons de Commarque became the most powerful lord of Périgord. As a reward for his loyalty, he received from Charles VII Campagne Castle.

Visit 15th and 16th centuriesIn the 18th century, it was abandoned and fell into ruin a century later.

Today After returning to the de Commarque family, the château was visited, inspired artists and became a film location. For over forty years, Hubert de Commarque has dedicated his life to this listed historic monument, and visitors are always full of praise for this jewel in the crown of our Périgord heritage, which has been so painstakingly restored.

In the Dordogne valley

The picture postcard image of the Dordogne! The Dordogne valley, just a few minutes from Montignac-Lascaux, Le Bugue or Limeuil, boasts two of France's most famous medieval châteaux: Castelnaud and Beynac.

The castles of Castelnaud and Beynac were built at the time of the Norman invasions. The two rivals face each other with the river Dordogne as their only border. They were transformed and enlarged to defend themselves. At the end of the 12th century, Beynac was the seat of Richard the Lionheart and Simon de Montfort. During the Hundred Years' War, Beynac was a French stronghold, while Castelnaud was English. 

Both are located near a village, on a natural hillock or a limestone spur in the heart of the village. 150 metres above the riverEach of these keeps has powerful crenellated walls, curtain walls (a few fragments in the case of Castelnaud) and circular towers. Each of them has powerful crenellated walls, curtain walls (a few fragments for Castelnaud) with circular towers to better protect the keep and very high walls to prevent assault from ladders. 

Breathtaking panoramas and fortified enclosures!

Which is the most beautiful château in the Dordogne?

Most of our châteaux have no single style and are from different periods. And that's part of their charm!
The marks of these architectural transformations are clearly visible. Biron is an example of this: it is the result of 8 centuries of construction. As for Montfort, Fénelon or BourdeillesThey were built to withstand war machines or sieges. After the ravages of war, the great castle craze began. Numerous châteaux were built with no apparent concern for defence, and the lords gave more importance to aesthetics: the painted ceiling at Château de Bourdeilles, the decorated walls at Puymartin, the sculpted windows at Puyguilhem... But what about LossePuymartin, Les Bories, Puyguilhem, MarzacLes Milandes... all of which boast extremely fine scenery? Each has its own appeal and special features!

If you are taking part in "Châteaux en Fête organised by the Comité Départemental du Tourisme de Dordogne, you may have to make some choices. Every year, in springThe event gives visitors the chance to visit a large number of residences, which open their doors and offer unique activities. It's an opportunity to find out more about the history of each owner and to get a better feel for the place.

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